Saturday, March 12, 2016

Being a White Zimbabwean 2

As the last story told, Lois and I had the privilege of becoming part of a Zimbabwean family living here in Manitoba, helping with the process of bringing together the Moyo and Penner families (names changed). More recently I became part of another Zimbabwean family.

It was Saturday morning when the call came: friends of ours, a Zimbabwean couple named John and Mary (again, no real names used). John asked me for a favour. Their daughter, living in another province wanted to bring her boyfriend (also a Zimbabwean) home. But there was a complication—under the circumstances he should not just arrive at the house and ask to marry her. That might work for Canada, but not for Zimbabwe. The favour then was this: Would I go to the airport with his daughter (we’ll use the name Noma again—it’s a good Zimbabwean name) to pick up the boyfriend (we’ll call him Musa, another good Zimbabwean name) and bring him to meet Noma’s parents. John told me, “Noma will explain to you what you need to do.” I agreed, and entered on a valuable experience.

On the way in we engaged in small talk. Then we picked up Musa and started driving back. At first we talked generally, getting to know each other, but soon we got down to business. I was to act as Musa’s friend who would open the way for the young man to meet his girlfriend’s parents. Noma herself would disappear as soon as we arrived at the house (and disappear she did!). We would go in and greet those assembled, and then sit down on the floor. I would make a payment to open the conversation, and then a statement saying why we were there, and then a further payment for bringing the daughter home in such a way. (Musa brought the money that we used. The amount he brought is irrelevant and not mentioned here.)

That is more or less what happened. We knocked at the door and were admitted. John was sitting in the living room with some neighbour friends he had asked to come and serve as witnesses. Mary was working in the kitchen preparing supper. We greeted all the people assembled, then Musa and I sat on the floor in front of John.

I handed John the first payment to open the conversation, and he called Mary from the kitchen to stop her work and join us in the living room. Everyone gathered (except Noma, who had disappeared into her room), and I proceeded. I said something like this, based on our conversation in the car, “I am bringing you this young man. His name is Musa from [name of town]. He is coming to acknowledge his responsibility for your daughter and to apologize for bringing her to you in this way. You do not need to go looking for her, because he has brought her here.” Then I placed a further payment in a bowl that John had set on the table.

John is a friendly person who is normally a delight to be with, but that evening he was the father whose daughter had been brought home expecting a child. His face was stern—I think. My eyes were downcast as I did my best to ignore my mother’s voice in my head saying, “Look at me when you talk to me!” He counted the money slowly and carefully, an amount that had been worked out between the parties before the actual event. Then he handed it to his wife and asked a further question.

“Does he have anything else to say?” I remember my lines: “He says they would like to return in two a half months to talk more with you.” John made sure of the date, since, as he explained, they had to gather the family together for that meeting. Musa confirmed to me that the date was firm, and I repeated that to John.

Another question remained. “What is his clan?” Fortunately I had asked that question on the way from the airport. “Ncube”, I said. John looked grave. “We are also Ncube.” Is he Ncube from Murewa or from Kameni or from somewhere else?” (I may not have the clan names right, but that is what I remember.) I decided I thought he was from Murewa. John was pleased, “We are from Kameni, so that is all right.”

Then he was his cheerful self again. The young people were sent to the basement to enjoy each other’s company, and the neighbours joined us in another wonderful meal. I can tell you that Zimbabwean cooking is excellent!

So now I have been the friend who goes between to begin a relationship leading to marriage. A privilege beyond asking. As we were getting ready to leave, Musa came over and thanked me and then asked if I would be one of his party for the next round of negotiations referred to above (he would like me to come back in two and half months). Those of his family in Canada will come, but the extended family is in Zimbabwe. So I may learn something more about setting the dowry.

You can read about many things in books, but you learn more when people are gracious and include you in their lives. So thanks to our Zimbabwean friends who have included us in their lives. Lois and I say (in Shona and Ndebele), “Tinotenda. Siyabonga kakhulu.”


KGMom said...

And to & Lois just let your boys go off and get married without so much as a dowry negotiated. Tsk tsk.

Climenheise said...

Well ... we would have been paying the dowry. Another Zimbabwean friend recalled pleading with her mother to talk to the men and keep the dowry down, since her fiance was a poor pastor!